I’ve been listening to quite a bit of 1972 lately, what with the Dave’s Picks v 11, and the new Houston 11/18/72 release. That was such a consistently great year, somewhere on the apotheosis scale certainly, that it seems like cheating to pick something from 1972.
So in a year when you can close your eyes, point to pretty much any song in a given show and have a winner what is acceptable? Well out first Bird Song was from 1972 and so is this one. When Sunshine Daydream was released David Lemieux mentioned that many of the songs from that show could serve as “reference versions.” You know, the version that you use to compare all other ones? For me, the Bird Song from 9/21/72 is likely my reference version, but this one certainly provides a convincing challenge.
You often hear the phrase “three chords and the truth” in reference to some musical styles. As inefficient as the Grateful Dead were, they seemed to really excel at “one chord and the truth.” When you think about some of the jams they constructed around a single chord it really is amazing. Bird Song simply offers another great example of that ability.
Not to be dismissive, but the part of Bird Song that is the juiciest is the jam. Being a multi-track recording everything is well balanced here and the through the first verse everything is copacetic. Clearly the band is “on” and that becomes even more evident as they get into the jam. Jerry is certainly the featured player here, but Weir challenges him regularly with inverted chords and slashing rhythm work (there are a number of examples during the 4th minute). Keith adds some extra color to the proceedings right around the 6:00 mark before the band drops back into the main groove at around 6:30. But they pull a bait-and-switch, right when you think Jerry’s going to step back to the mic for the next verse it’s one big fake out and they jam for a few more measures. Jerry finally starts the second verse just before the 8th minute. Touché, Grateful Dead. Within a couple of minutes the verse is done and it’s back to the jam. Listen to Jerry around the 11:45 mark – he’s reaching for the summit and just as he stands upright it’s as though he leaps off (while wearing a wing suit, of course) and races to the bottom of the mountain. What a finish!
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